Nature Wisdom

with Pat Tuholske; 

The Elder Grove

The Elder Grove off my back deck is in full bloom. In a few weeks purple clusters of berries will replace the blooms. Then the race is on to harvest the Elderberries and beat the birds. When I have collected enough, I’ll make a tincture to have Elderberry extract for the next couple years to keep me healthy and strong.

American Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, is a 12’–15’ native shrub found across most of North America. It can be seen growing wild in old fencerows, fields, woodland’s edge, and along streams. It’s easy to identify by the large umbrella shaped cream colored flowers and umbels of purple berries. (Don’t confuse Elder with toxic Pokeweed which has elongated clusters of white flowers and purple berries.) Elder flowers and berries have long been harvested by Native Americans and settlers for food and medicine. The European variety, Sambucus nigra, has a extensive history with common folk and sovereigns alike. Both varieties are healing and nutritious. 

The berries can be made into wine, jelly or medicinal extract. Full of antioxidants and vitamins, the juice boosts immunity and can alleviate the symptoms of colds and flu. Branded Sambucus, it is easy to find on store shelves. The flowers are anti-inflammatory and a potent remedy for sinusitis, colds and allergies.

Missouri is emerging as a leader in Elderberry research, development, and production. Visit RiverHillsHarvest.com, NormsFarms.com and GraceFarmAg.com and view their Elder fields and production operations. The Missouri Botanical Garden and University of Missouri conducted grant funded research into the future of Elderberry as a crop and medicine. Research on Elder’s potential to treat cancer, stroke, infectious disease, and Alzheimer’s is ongoing. High in antioxidants, potassium and vitamins A, B and C, the purple juice from the berry has also been touted to reduce cholesterol levels and boost the immune system.

For those wanting to grow a native landscape, plant Elder. Give it plenty of space as it’ll spread. It needs moisture and does best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. It makes a good privacy screen and wild bird food. You can order Elder saplings through Missouri Conservation Department’s yearly tree seedling sale from September through April. Order early as they sell out. Or you can take cuttings or transplants with land owner’s permission. 

Elder has strong regenerative powers, growing easily from cuttings and rejuvenating itself from shoots growing at its base. For our ancestors this was a potent symbol of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The Elder tree is deeply enshrined in mystery and European folklore, bringing transformation, spiritual renewal and protection.

In the days when magic and medicine were one, many charms were contrived from Elder wood for various misfortunes and arduous tasks. Its wood was used for the making of wands (think the Elder Wand of the Harry Potter stories). Elder is often planted in graveyards to help the spirits cross over. It was also believed you would “See the Fairies” if you sat under the Elder Grove at midsummer. Still planted around houses to ward off evil spirits, the tree is given great care and respected for its food, medicine and otherworldly powers.

Discover the Elder Grove’s gifts and connect to an ancient Earth energy.

See Pat’s Wild Wreaths, Wheels, and Twig Art crafted from Ozark native plants at willowrainherbalgoods.com and at Green Door Art Gallery. Check out her Field Journal for her musings on the Human-Nature relationship.